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Vol XXXI No. 19, January 16-31, 2022

An Evening at Kalakshetra

by Sujatha Chandramouli

Every year the highlight of our December music season is to attend at least one concert of music or dance at Kalakshetra Foundation, Thiruvanmiyur. The sylvan landscape of the auditorium elevates the programme to another level. The concert is the icing on the cake.

After the newly renovated Bharata Kalakshetra auditorium of the Foundation opened sometime back, we attended a few festivals. At the end of each concert I was eagerly looking forward to the next one.

What is it that attracts me to attend the concerts here more than any other place? As I sit back and muse, I thought I will pen my experience.

Firstly as you enter the gates of the Kalakshetra Foundation you feel yourself transported to another world, a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life. As you come near the auditorium, you will find a lot of young girls, dressed in earthy coloured cotton sarees with contrast borders, smiling pleasantly and guiding you. These are student volunteers of this institution. Oh by the way there are some lads too, lest I be accused of gender bias. Before entering the auditorium a student volunteer may politely ask you to remove your footwear, in case, you have forgotten to do so, or are a first timer and not aware of this practice. This itself is a reminder to us all that music and dance are entwined in devotion and Bhakti, and the performing stage is a sacred place for both, those on, and off it. 

Sanjay Subrahmanyan in concert at Kalakshetra with S. Varadarajan violin, Neyveli Venkatesh mridangam and C.S. Venkataraman kanjira.

As you enter the hallowed precincts of the auditorium you are gently enveloped by wafts of some pleasant incense, probably some herbal effusion to keep insects away to allow the audience to enjoy the performance without the nuisance of mosquitos. The Bharata Kalakshetra auditorium is modelled on Kerala style koothambalam which is basically a temple stage. The auditorium has a high dome-like ceiling with mainly wooden or bamboo beams and columns, and aesthetic tiles and flooring. The performance space combines the traditional look with modern acoustics and lighting. A huge ceiling fan at the top, and doors situated diametrically opposite on the sides allows for natural ventilation. The stage is only slightly raised and the audience is almost at the same level as the performing artists. This reduces the distance between the performer and the audience, allowing greater involvement in the performance. As the lights dim and the concert picks up steam, the gentle sea breeze from the Bay of Bengal flows in through the large doors on the sides.

When seated as you look around for familiar faces you sometimes see the who’s who and the glitterati of classical music and dance circles. Here you will find most of the ladies in the audience dressed in elegant sarees and jewellery. Not here the flashy kind, or the hurriedly ‘draped-in-anything’ types. They also seem to be better mannered, you rarely find loud cell phone users or people clicking photos and taking videos when the programme is on. Any deviant behaviour is quickly stopped by the volunteer girls who flit across gracefully: a tap, a touch, or a beguiling smile to check the errant behaviour. Also people here rarely disturb others by getting up in the middle of the programme, thankfully there is no full fledged canteen churning out tiffins and mini meals to distract the rasikas. Most of the audience also stays back to applaud the artistes when they are felicitated at the end of the programme.

After the concert is over as I am waiting at the car park along with other attendees, I see the students going back in groups to their quarters, giggling and smiling. They look beautiful with their kohl lined expressive eyes, smiling faces, their dangler earrings swaying in sync with their mood and movement. Young girls from any institution world over are beautiful, but why is it that the girls here seem very beautiful to me? I realise their smiling eyes and faces radiate genuine happiness. Does the learning of classical music and dance bring out our innate sense of happiness? Well yes maybe. It’s also possible that almost all the students who have enrolled here have done so as it’s a passion. I don’t think any student has really been coerced to enter this institution, nor have they done so under peer pressure. When you follow your passion it’s bound to make you feel happy, and if you are happy you do spread positivity around you. 

As I bring my self-drawn conclusions to a close I realise I have not said anything about the performances itself. Like I mentioned earlier- that’s the icing on the cake. This is a much respected performance space and artistes of calibre perform here. Now I leave it to the reader to make an appointment for their soirée at Bharata Kalakshetra.

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